This distinction, which is very important, is well illustrated by the description S. Jerome gives of a young man bound to a voluptuous bed by the softest silken cords, and subjected to the wiles and lures of a treacherous tempter, with the express object of causing him to fall. Greatly as all his senses and imagination must inevitably have been possessed by so vehement an assault, he proved that his heart was free and his will unconquered, for, having physical control over no member save his tongue, he bit that off and spat it out at his foe, a foe more terrible than the tyrant’s executioners.
S. Catherine of Sienna has left a somewhat similar record. The Evil One having obtained permission from God to assault that pious virgin with all his strength, so long as he laid no hand upon her, filled her heart with impure suggestions, and surrounded her with every conceivable temptation of sight and sound, which, penetrating into the Saint’s heart, so filled it, that, as she herself has said, nothing remained free save her most acute superior will.
This struggle endured long, until at length Our Lord appeared to her, and she exclaimed, “Where wert Thou, O most Dear Lord, when my heart was so overwhelmed with darkness and foulness?” Whereupon He answered, “I was within thy heart, My child.” “How could that be, Lord,” she asked, “when it was so full of evil? Canst Thou abide in a place so foul?” Then our Lord replied, “Tell Me, did these evil thoughts and imaginations give thee pain or pleasure? didst thou take delight, or didst thou grieve over them?” To which S. Catherine made answer, “They grieved me exceedingly.” Then the Lord said, “Who, thinkest thou, was it that caused thee to be thus grieved, save I Myself, hidden within thy soul? Believe Me, My child, had I not been there, these evil thoughts which swarmed around thy soul, and which thou couldst not banish, would speedily have overpowered it, and entering in, thy free will would have accepted them, and so death had struck that soul; but inasmuch as I was there, I filled thy heart with reluctance and resistance, so that it set itself stedfastly against the temptation, and finding itself unable to contend as vigorously as it desired, it did but experience a yet more vehement abhorrence of sin and of itself. Thus these very troubles became a great merit again to thee, and a great accession of virtue and strength to thy soul.”
Here, you see, were the embers covered over with ashes, while temptation and delectation had entered the heart and surrounded the will, which, aided only by the Saviour, resisted all evil inspirations with great disgust, and a persevering refusal to consent to sin. Verily the soul which loves God is sometimes in sore straits to know whether He abideth in it or no, and whether that Divine Love for which it fights is extinguished or burns yet. But it is the very essence of the perfection of that Heavenly Love to require its lovers to endure and fight for Love’s sake, without knowing even whether they possess the very Love for which and in which they strive.